There's an interesting article over at the Nashville City Paper this morning about last Tuesday night's dual-bill in downtown Nashville, where both the Preds and the Vanderbilt men's basketball team drew big crowds and scored huge home victories. In terms of local TV ratings, however, Vandy had a huge edge over the Predators, pulling in a 5.5 rating vs. a 0.1 for the hockey game.
What sticks out to me, however, are quotes from Hope Hines, the sports director for the local CBS affiliate here in Nashville, WTVF, talking about why his sports broadcast that night led with the Vanderbilt story rather than the Preds win:
"After being in this business for so many years, I just go on gut feel. You have to make a decision at some point, and apparently the viewership agreed with us."
OK, that's fine, I understand that college basketball is very popular in this area, Vanderbilt's off to a great start, and that's why they led with the Commodores' win over Kentucky. But then there's this...
"I’m of the opinion that entertainment options – TV ratings aside – are healthy for a city. I don’t know anything about hockey (isn’t icing what you put on a cake?), but I believe Nashville is a better city with the Predators here." [EDIT: This quote isn't from Hines, it's from the author of the article, a Vanderbilt basketball reporter from the City Paper]
So let me get this straight. After 10 years of having an NHL team in Nashville, the sports director of a local TV station says with a straight face that he doesn't "know anything about hockey"? That's not just sad, it's downright frustrating. For a guy in his profession to maintain ignorance about hockey at this point requires a stubborn refusal to embrace the game or the local team. I work with corporate IT systems, and if I refused to get on board with a new technology being brought in, or a new way of doing our work, I'd expect to get fired, plain and simple, just like anybody else out there. Yet somehow Hope Hines cruises along while basically ignoring the team that brings more fans into the building each year than the NFL's Tennessee Titans. [EDIT: Obviously that quote doesn't fit here, but just listen to Hines muddle his way through Predators pieces and you'll see that the charge still sticks]
It's people like this that drive Predators' fans nuts over the dismal quality of local coverage the team and the sport receive. In too many cases, we have prominent members of the local sports media that continue to deliberately keep the NHL and the Predators at the bottom of the sports pile.
I would be remiss, of course, if I didn't point out that there are a few folks out there doing a better job. The print journalism has greatly improved over last season, stretching beyond mere game recaps and previews, and sometimes touching on league-wide issues. Over at WTVF, there's Eric Yutzy, a sports reporter who works under Hines and occasionally hosts a "Hockey Monday" show that devotes an hour to Predators and NHL discussion. On the radio side, Thom Abraham is a welcome addition in the afternoons over at 106.7, and despite a weak signal that fails to reach many of the suburbs, Thom tries to broaden the discussion beyond the Titans and Commodores. Heck, recently I heard him extolling the virtues of NHL Center Ice, and how he planned to catch that night's Bruins/Sabres game! That's what I'm talking about...
On the other hand, I would gladly bet $20 that the other main sports radio hosts or sports directors at the TV stations couldn't name five players on either of those teams.
As far as a solution goes, I can't imagine anything other than a concerted effort by the new ownership group to sell these influential figures on the game would help. I thought I saw a post recently on one of the message boards stating that some of them had been invited to the owner's suite for a game, which is a nice start, but I'd also recommend working with opposing teams that come to town as well as the NHL front office to perhaps line up high-profile individuals for interviews, like Wayne Gretzky when the Coyotes visit, or Brett Hull with the Dallas Stars. Fortunately the new ownership group is taking a fresh, hard-working approach to selling tickets and obtaining corporate sponsorships, and I'm hoping that a full-scale charm offensive might eventually make some difference with the sports media leadership as well. We can only Hope...